Phil Galfond is the most respected internet poker pro around and so we decided to find out why

Phil Galfond’s won millions of dollars at nosebleed stakes online, and of all the internet pros seems to get the most respect his peers

Anyone who needs the incentive to upgrade his poker game really ought to pay a visit to Phil Galfond. The unassuming online superstar, who plays under the name OMGClayAiken and raked in $ 7m over the last 12 months on Full Tilt alone (according to, recently relocated from modest digs in the Midwest to a duplex penthouse in lower Manhattan.

Floor-to-ceiling windows expose a skyscraping view of the city and, when the apartment’s renovation is complete, Galfond will have a slide for speedy transport from the top floor to the bottom. His architect suggested installing a glass tube elevator, but 24-year-old Galfond convinced him that the slide is way cooler. A couple of enormous Apple monitors allow him to multi-table in style, and an attractive redhead bustles through the apartment, a shiny laptop at her side.

She heads into the elevator, which opens right into Galfond’s living room, and I ask if the woman is his girlfriend. ‘Nah,’ says Galfond, wavy-haired and well built with a broadly handsome, stubbled face. ‘I spend most of my time in here and don’t meet many girls. I usually sleep from 6am till 4pm, and I’m always on call for the good games. If there are certain people online, I know I can do well against them, and it’s hard to justify going out. Then, if I do go out, it’s hard to have fun.’ (Presumably because he’s thinking about how much money he could be making at home.) ‘I don’t think I’d be a very good boyfriend. She’s my assistant.’

That said, I can’t help but wonder why he needs an assistant. Exposing his continual quest for high EV, he explains: ‘At first it seemed extravagant. But it makes sense if you have a high hourly rate at poker. You pay an assistant $ 30 or $ 40 an hour, she spends six hours doing something that saves you an hour, and you can make $ 1,000 or $ 2,000 in that time period. Look at it that way and the assistant is actually making you money.’

So how did Galfond do in his most recent session? ‘I’m not 100% sure,’ he allows. ‘In the last couple of weeks I’ve done fairly well against Gus Hansen at $ 500/$ 1,000 [no-limit Hold’em and pot-limit Omaha]. But I’ve been playing so much that it all blends together. I know I recently won $ 800,000 in a single day. I was playing two tables against Gus and two tables with four or five other people.’ Clearly, the figures are staggering, especially when they come from a kid who dresses as if he works in the local Puma shop and expresses these amounts with supreme nonchalance.

Pressed on the matter, Galfond acknowledges that it feels good to win close to a million dollars during eight or 10 hours of play – but not so good that it will affect his life. There’s nothing he wants to buy, nowhere he wants to travel, and no bigger game to move up to. However, he points out, blowing the same amount over the course of a single session will not hurt him either. ‘Losing $ 800k for a few days in a row would bother me,’ he admits. ‘Prolonged losing streaks affect you a lot. I’ve had months where things have gone bad for a while. My biggest negative swing was $ 1.3m, all in one month. That was pretty bad, mostly because my bankroll wasn’t as big then as it is now. Fortunately, I had just been on a big upswing. A few months before losing the money, I had only $ 800,000. So it didn’t seem like such a big deal to be back down there, and I knew I could grind my way up again.’

Party time

As a kid, living in an affluent suburb near Washington DC, Galfond and his friends played goofy poker variations and set the stakes at $ 1 to $ 5. It was fun, and he never thought of cards as anything more than an alternative to playing computer games.

Then, in 2004, during his freshman year of college, a hometown friend won $ 20,000 in a PartyPoker tournament. Intrigued, Galfond began reading up on Texas Hold’em. He randomly bought books but most of them were useless. It wasn’t until he read David Sklansky’s Hold’em Poker For Advanced Players that he felt like he was on his way to something.

While majoring in philosophy at University of Wisconsin, Madison, Galfond took $ 50 of the spending money his parents provided for him and deposited it into an online account. He promptly blew it all playing sit-and-gos. Another $ 50 went to the site, and it’s the last deposit he ever made. Very quickly he evolved into a crack sit-and-go player. Within eight months he found himself earning $ 50 per hour, and eight months after that, Galfond was buying into the biggest sit-and-gos online, for $ 1,000 a pop, and winning consistently.

Via, he fell in with a group of burgeoning online pros, including Andrew Robl, Tom Dwan, David Benefield and Alan Sass. They discussed strategies, focused on the game, and all improved. Galfond points out that the group’s ascent must be attributed to more than just diligence and shared information. Even as he has recently played a key role in the launching of – a CardRunners-style instructional site, with Galfond as the marquee attraction – he knows that to be great at poker you need the same sort of X-factor that the best footballers, golfers, tennis and snooker players have all been blessed with. ‘I’m lucky to have the mind for poker,’ says Galfond. ‘People want to think that if they work really hard they can do this, but I don’t think that’s true – you also need the mind.’


Knowing that he wanted to devote his attention to poker, Galfond had a hard time rationalising life as a college student and dropped out during his junior year, in January 2006. He was making so much money online that attending classes seemed a little ridiculous – at least at the time. Now, with hindsight, he recognises that quitting college may not have been such a great idea. In fact, he says, ‘based on what I knew then, it wasn’t a good decision at all. I was making $ 100 an hour, playing online; I thought I could get better and do it forever. It turns out that I did. But there are a lot of people who were making that money then and they have since stopped playing poker. Those guys found it hard to keep winning.’

They failed to improve and the game passed them by. Not so Galfond. A critical time for his education as a poker pro came in the summer of 2006. He went out to Las Vegas during the World Series, played in some tournaments, cashed in two events and shared a group house with Robl, Sass and other hot, young, online kids. ‘Talking about strategies and watching each other play was a big deal,’ he says. ‘I related to them.’ Less appealing was the non-poker stuff, the lifestyle that invariably comes with being young, male, rich and talented in a city where great success at Hold’em can make you feel like a rock star. ‘Some guys in that house went out way too much for my liking,’ he continues, not naming names. ‘I think that if you miss sleep or drink a lot, it hurts you a little. A lot of good poker players live that lifestyle. If I wanted to, I could handle it. But it’s easier for me to remain focused. I’m more low-key.’

Galfond needed all the focus he could get, as he moved away from sit-and-gos. ‘I started playing cash games in February 2006,’ he says. ‘I was rolled for it, but I don’t know that I had the skill, at least at the beginning. Eventually, though, I got to the point where I was making $ 100 an hour, and I took a lot of shots at bigger games. They were good shots, but I probably shouldn’t have taken them.’ Between money lost on World Series tournaments and his foiled attempts to move up in online stakes, Galfond saw half his bankroll evaporate.

But he persevered, asked the right questions of his astute friends, and obsessively analysed hands. During the latter part of 2007, he finally cracked the high stakes algorithms. Still living with his old college roommates, he began regularly beating $ 300/$ 600 games and evolved into an online dynamo with an intentionally goofy name.

Rising through the online ranks, Galfond eventually found himself at the nosebleed levels, where buy-ins are $ 100,000, your bankroll ought to be at least in the mid seven figures, and competition is as fierce as it gets. ‘People say that we sit there in the biggest games and wait for fish,’ says Galfond. ‘But there aren’t many fish playing $ 500/$ 1,000 – mostly it’s pros against pros who all think they have an edge. But the edges are so small that you need to be on top of your game. Playing at 80% while your mind is somewhere else, isn’t going to do it.’

Bank manager

Though Galfond won’t discuss his current finances, it’s clear that he’s bankrolled for any game he’d care to play. Along the way, though, on his trek to the top of poker’s Everest, he’s had a few rough moments, like the time, early last year, when he was four-tabling Brad Booth at $ 300/$ 600 no-limit Hold’em. ‘I probably had $ 800,000 in my bankroll and lost $ 450k during one session,’ he remembers with a tinge of grimness in his voice. ‘Brad was somebody I was afraid to play and the experience kind of scared me. It wasn’t losing so much as it was the fact I didn’t quit before I dropped more than half my roll. I thought maybe I had it in me to keep playing until I lost all my money.’

Indeed, even now with way more at stake and an increasingly conservative approach to bankroll management, Galfond acknowledges that simply losing money is no reason to quit. Instead, he normally throws in the towel when one of two conditions emerge: he recognises that he’s not playing well, or he realises that he’s underestimated an opponent and has too small an advantage to make the risk worthwhile. Galfond recalls $ 300/$ 600 sessions against Phil Ivey in which he was way off about Ivey’s skill level. ‘I thought I had a big edge,’ Galfond says. ‘He played an unorthodox style I didn’t understand. Some of the plays he made seemed bad to me.’

It turns out they weren’t. ‘Phil check-raised way too many flops, percentage-wise, and I figured that he couldn’t always have a hand. So I decided I would play back and re-raise most of the time when he check-raised. What I underestimated was how quickly he would adjust to that. Making a mistake is only a mistake if someone is taking advantage of it. If, once they start taking advantage, you adjust in another direction, then it’s not really a mistake. It takes a lot of awareness to do that – especially if you’ve been playing for five-plus years and you have a style that works. But Phil may be the best I’ve played against, heads-up, when it comes to adjusting really quickly and understanding what the other player is doing.’

Live success

Among a growing coterie of big-name pros, Galfond engenders the same kind of respect that he expresses for Ivey. Mike Matusow has announced that Galfond is one internet kid who will never go broke. Daniel Negreanu, on, positively raved about a particularly cagey move that Galfond put on him. And if anyone questioned whether or not Galfond can hold his own against the best players in the game under live circumstances, he answered them by winning the pot-limit Omaha rebuy tournament at last year’s WSOP.

Not only did he take down a first prize of $ 817,871, but he also had to beat a final table populated by David Benyamine, Johnny Chan, John Juanda, Phil Hellmuth and Negreanu. ‘Winning a WSOP event was a big deal for me, until it happened,’ says Galfond, pointing out that he keeps the bracelet in his backpack, simply because it’s the last place where he happened to leave it. ‘At first I wanted respect from the general public. But now I realise that’s just ego and pride. Winning the tournament is certainly not one of the bigger poker accomplishments I’ve had. I think it’s much more meaningful to consistently win online at the stakes I play.’

Emblematic of poker’s new breed Galfond is clearly the right man at the right time: intuitive, mathematical, and astute at pattern recognition. Go 12 years forward or 12 years back, and there’s a good chance he wouldn’t be the hot kid with a multimillion-dollar bankroll. If not for poker’s opportunities, it’s hard to say where he would be and what he would be doing. Most assuredly, he wouldn’t be in Las Vegas, grinding it out at a Bellagio mid stakes table. Unquestionably, Galfond is capitalising on the moment. ‘I have such a good set-up now that I need to take advantage of it,’ he says, acknowledging that his internet oil-field could run dry at any time. ‘I need to keep working.’

Outside his windows, the sky darkens as primetime approaches for highest stakes poker. Galfond steals a glance at his monitors and his sense of mission leaves me wondering if he envisions the day when he’ll never have to work again? ‘I’m on my way,’ he replies.

PokerPlayer magazine brings you great strategy content each month in addition to articles like this. Get it here


Pin It

Comments are closed.